The doubters and the cynics were right. The (seemingly) never-ending state of emergency wasn’t really about public health. It was about political power and, after the first year, it was all about the Benjamins.
Last week, Gov. Jim Justice revealed he had, without notifying the public, issued an order on Nov. 12 to end the COVID-19 state of emergency, effective Jan. 1, 2023. At his COVID briefing on Wednesday, Justice said he chose to not inform the public of his decision to rescind the state of emergency because “in my world, I don’t see a reason to make a big deal out of stuff.”
By Wednesday COVID-19 wasn’t a big deal to most West Virginians. It lingers and is a part of life’s background now, but Justice hadn’t gotten around to lifting the state of emergency and giving up all the powers it gave him.
“There was no reason to get up on the soapbox and turn this thing into a political issue or anything,” Justice said Wednesday. “I saw no reason to make a great big hoopla out of it.”
Justice said it was inaccurate to call the pandemic an emergency at this time, nearly three years after the state of emergency was declared.
“We’ve learned to live with this pandemic, and that’s what we’re going to have to do,” Justice said. “We need to move on.”
Brian Abraham, Justice’s chief of staff, said most members of the public “will not notice” a difference between services available now and when the state of emergency is lifted.
So why lift the state of emergency now? Or better, why hadn’t it been lifted before?
Justice said he delayed ending the state of emergency so state officials could “double, triple check” that the state wouldn’t lose out on any COVID-related federal money that might still be available.
From one point of view that’s good fiscal management, but from another it was a cynical attempt to milk the federal treasury for more money the governor could pass out at his discretion.
The power state officials had during the state of emergency had already dissipated as residents grew weary of arbitrary decisions that were made — in theory — to protect public health but instead favored some groups over others. You couldn’t attend church, but you could attend political rallies. One store could sell art supplies but another couldn’t. Be vaccinated or lose your job. And be sure to wear those little cloth masks that do little or nothing to stop the spread.
Now that the federal spigot has been turned off, the governor has accepted what the rest of us decided a long time ago — the pandemic is over. Remain cautious, but don’t let fear rule your life. If you are in a group that is vulnerable to COVID, protect yourself. And remember the lessons we have learned, whether they are in the realm of disease prevention or in the exercise of political power.